Damien McGrane from Ireland and England’s Grant Hamerton carded seven-under-par 65s, records over the redesigned course, to share the lead after the opening round of the co-sanctioned Formby Hall Challenge.
They lead by two from another Englishman, Lee Thompson, and by three from Scotland’s Roger Beames, and Welshmen, Richard Dinsdale and Simon Edwards.
An early starter, McGrane gave no hint of the low return to come as he started unimpressively in the early morning rain. He ran up a double-bogey six at the 3rd hole when he fired a five wood into water. But an eagle-two at the 8th, where he holed a nine iron from 135 yards, along with seven birdies saw him nine under for the last 12 holes.
"I've been playing reasonably OK," he said modestly. "Even on the 3rd I hit two good shots and when the ball was in the air I was thinking of a birdie."
The Formby Hall course seems to agree with McGrane. In the same tournament a year ago he shot 66 on his way to third place.
Hamerton came into the event in good form having posted a 65 on his way to joint third place in last week's Rolex Trophy in Switzerland. Starting at the 10th tee, he kept a bogey off his card as he secured seven birdies, coming home in 30.
"I can put it all down to putting," he said. "My form has been good for the past five weeks but I haven't been putting well. I hadn't holed much outside five feet but the 65 at the Rolex has made me more confident on the greens."
Thompson, whose Challenge Tour form this year has been anything but impressive with six missed cuts and a best finish of 11 in Zambia, was an afternoon starter and went round in 67 to give himself a great chance of returning his best Challenge Tour performance.
But Beames is certainly at home at Formby Hall. A year ago, the 26 year old Scot carded two 68s to put himself in striking distance of a victory but eventually had to settle for equal sixth place, which remains his best Challenge Tour finish.
Back in Lancashire, Beames carded another 68, which was a world apart from the rest of his exploits this season. In 16 Challenge Tour outings he has made just three cuts, which has left him ranked 104th and badly in need of a pick me up.
His opening three holes gave no indication of the change to come. Starting at the 10th tee, Beames immediately dropped a shot when he fired a five iron into water, then three-putted the 12th from 20 feet for another bogey.
But everything changed when he drained a 40-footer for birdie at the short 13th, then at 15 Beames nailed a four iron to three feet and holes for an eagle-three.
A further birdie at the long 18th saw him out in 35, while birdies at the 7th and 9th for an inward 33 brought him his best round for months.
"It was raining when we started but I was six under for the rest," he said. "I didn't play any different from some of my previous rounds and I've probably played better and finished three over, but it's nice to on the leaderboard again."
The Welsh duo of Dinsdale and Edwards were out in the afternoon and were able to join Beames on 68, Edwards, the British PGA Club Pros champion, posting his score in one of the last matches to come in.
The tournament also marked the maiden Challenge Tour outings of David Patrick and David Dixon. Scotland’s Patrick, a member of the victorious 1999 Walker Cup team, was also out from the 10th and rolled in four birdies in a 69, while Dixon, from England, turned professional a few weeks ago after failing to make this year’s Walker Cup line-up.
He showed he is at home in the paid ranks with an opening 70.